IFA 2013 - First Look at Sony’s New High Resolution Audio

Steve Withers

Reviewer
Sony takes audio to the next level with double the DSD

Sony might have co-developed the compact disc but with that venerable format now in its thirties, the Japanese manufacturer clearly feels that it’s time to bring audio into the 21st century. There have been attempts before to deliver higher resolution audio, with both DVD-Audio and Sony’s own SACD stumbling along the way. More recently, the development of cheap hard drives and faster download speeds has brought high resolution audio to a much wider audience.

Today High Resolution refers to a wide range of digital file formats, all of which are capable of delivering better than CD quality. The compact disc is 44.1kHz/16-bit, which basically means it samples the music 44,100 times a second and this digital signal is stored with 16-bit precision. As result there are just over 65,000 possible values to represent the sound level at each instant. High resolution audio in contrast samples the same musical signal much more often and with greater precision.

20130910192049.jpg

Many of today’s high resolution recordings are stored as 192kHz/24-bit files. This means that the audio waveform is sampled 192,000 times each second, or four times higher than CD. In addition, the 24-bit resolution means there are 16 million possible values to represent the waveform at each instant - or 256 times the accuracy of compact disc. This isn’t the end though and even greater precision is possible, which is why Sony’s new High Resolution audio products can handle recordings up to 192kHz/32-bit.

To help customers enjoy High Resolution audio as easily as possible, Sony hs developed the HAP Music Transfer app which automatically copies the music library on your PC or Mac across to the High Resolution audio players' hard drive. The app automatically syncs with fresh downloads to keep the players hard drive up to date and you can control it using the Audio Remote app.

20130910192130.jpg

MP3 and other lower resolution files are upscaled to high resolution when they’re stored on the player’s hard drive using Sony’s DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine). The DSD Re-mastering Engine upsamples and converts all your music collection to 5.6MHz DSD files for storage on the players hard drive. DSD at 5.6MHz is sometimes referred to as 'double DSD' because it's twice the sample rate of DSD on SACDs. During playback this high resolution digital bitstream is converted to an analogue waveform using four FIR (Finite Impulse Response) filters per channel to reduce unwanted high frequency noise artefacts.

We had a demo of Sony’s flagship Media Music Server, the HAP-Z1ES, along with their latest Integrated Stereo Amplifier, the TA-A1ES and their latest floor-standing speakers, the SS-NA2ES. By combining these products, Sony were able to give us a demonstration of the full potential of High Resolution audio.

20130910192202.jpg

Starting off with the HAP-Z1ES Media Music Server, this will set you back £1,999 but there's a 1TB hard drive to which your music files can be transferred – wirelessly or via a cable connection – from your PC or Mac using the HAP Music Transfer app. It’s easy to explore and choose stored music files on the player’s colourful 10.9cm (4.3”) front panel LCD. Alternatively, you can browse selections wirelessly on your smartphone or tablet (Android/iOS) with Sony’s new Audio Remote app. And if you need even more music, just connect a further hard drive via USB to boost your storage. The HAP-Z1ES effortlessly plays virtually any music format – including MP3, DSD (up to 5.6 MHz), DSF, FLAC, WMA, ALAC, ATRAC, AIFF.

The HAP-Z1ES is perfectly complemented by the matching TA-A1ES 2x80W integrated stereo amplifier, which will also cost around £1,999. It’s built to equally exacting standards, with all-discreet preamp stages, audiophile-grade components throughout and a highly rigid chassis to cut electro-mechanical vibration. A FET input buffer stage reduces distortion, and the circuit topology of the TA-A1ES has been streamlined to improve sound quality. The emitter resistor, plus coil and capacitor that are normally used to improve stability have all been eliminated, allowing high-current amplification from a single push-pull circuit. Amplifier bias is also controlled intelligently depending on volume control settings, ensuring the best possible sound quality with extremely low distortion at any listening level.

20130910192245.jpg

The final element in the system were the SS-NA2ES stereo speakers, a 3-way, 6-unit floor stander with three tweeters, 2 woofers and a mid-range unit, which costs a sizeable £6,000 a pair. The combination of the HAP-Z1ES, TA-A1ES and SS-NA2ES was a heady concoction with a wonderfully clean and open sound. With High Resolution files the results were just spectacular and the room essentially disappeared, replaced by a soundfield full of detail and clarity. A recording of Nat King Cole sounded like it was made yesterday rather than 60 years ago and Nat's velvet tones just washed over us. There was no denying the potential of High Resolution audio, especially with a system that can take full advantage of it.

However for the formats to survive, more mainstream music needs to be made available in High Resolution. Currently there's too much rather esoteric music available and we pointed out that Sony, who own a record label, is in a unique position to do something about it. Sony is launching a new online gateway, where music lovers can browse and download a growing range of High Resolution recordings but the obvious answer would be for Sony to offer them over their Music Unlimited service.
 

golden phoenix

Distinguished Member
great article steve, im enjoying some hi res music via my oppo, which i really enjoy, but as you say mainstream music is few and far between. i just wish they would release hybrid discs of everything with all the relevant layers on, or better still as you say via music unlimited, that would be fantastic for the music fanatics in all of us!
 

golden phoenix

Distinguished Member
im sure there will a full review in due course on the forums!? any approx dates
 

Steve Withers

Reviewer
Not yet I'm afraid.
 

Steve Withers

Reviewer
I think 20,000 songs will keep most people happy, at high res that's a hell of a lot of storage.
 

vism

Well-known Member
Is Kazuo Hirai god?

Ever since he took over from that idiot Stringer, Sony just keeps blowing me away.

Welcome back Sony, I can't wait to buy some of your products.
 

Dixie4

Well-known Member
Did you listen to an upscaled file, during the demo ? Will the "all in one" £800 system also have "DSD Re- mastering Engine ?
 

Dixie4

Well-known Member
Yes I did and I have they sounded excellent.



I'm not sure about that to be honest.

Thank you for your reply. I did read on an American site that the £800 system includes DSD Re-Mastering Engine, but I wasn't convinced that this was true, given that it's not stated on Sony's site ?
If finances allow I might buy the £800 system ?
 

AidenL

Well-known Member
I'm interested in this too - but the downloads are pretty limited in choice really still it seems?

Am I reading this right - an iTunes library can be copied off a Mac and upconverted?

How can detail be added back which wasn't there in the first place?
 
Last edited:

AidenL

Well-known Member
I'm interested in this too - but the downloads are pretty limited in choice really still it seems?

Am I reading this right - an iTunes collection on a Mac can be copied over and upconverted? How the heck can you add something that isn't already there?
 

Dixie4

Well-known Member
I'm interested in this too - but the downloads are pretty limited in choice really still it seems?

Am I reading this right - an iTunes library can be copied off a Mac and upconverted?

How can detail be added back which wasn't there in the first place?

I think any file that you have stored on your pc ( or other devices ) can be transferred ?
My assumption would be, that the detail is already there, it's just that we can't hear everything. So these players must have technology, that can bring what we can't typically hear, to the fore ?
 

The latest video from AVForums

Podcast: Sky Glass, Epson Laser Projectors plus Home Cinema Subwoofers and More…
Subscribe to our YouTube channel

Full fat HDMI teeshirts

Support AVForums with Patreon

Top Bottom